Sexual harassment stalks women in the built industry
As the years pass, more women look to work in previously male-dominated industries, construction being one of the sectors. However, as it turns out, they are continuously subjected to sexual exploitation.
Faith Muma* had just graduated from studying Building and Construction at a local Technical and Vocational Education and Training centre when a friend tipped her of a site foreman job that was being advertised by a certain Chinese firm.
“It had been one year of hunting for a job, and whenever I came closer to getting one, I would be disqualified for being a woman.
This was actually the last time I was ever trying to get a job in my career line, and only because it was a foreign company,” the 30-year-old says.
She got the job. However, what Faith didn’t know were the challenges awaiting when she eventually started working.
“There were only two female employees in the entire project. I started experiencing harassment; from unwanted sexual attention, suggestive comments to derogatory language from my male colleagues,” she recounts.
Groped by a colleague
One incident that is engraved in her mind was late last year, when she was groped by her colleague, and when she tried to complain to the manager, she was told she could ruin a man’s career if she talked too much.
“There have been times when I was genuinely scared for my safety and no one cared, and when I spoke up I was victimised,” she narrates.
Faith’s story is perhaps the reason a networking organisation dedicated to advancing the achievements of women in the built industry, Women In Real Estate (WIRE) conducted a survey recently to help acquire information on the level of participation and challenges thereof, of women in various fields within the construction industry.
Presenting finding of the survey recently, Architect and WIRE vice president said the number of women in the built environment in the country is extremely low.
These statistics, Miloyo said, mean that women often find themselves as the only woman on a job, or the first woman her male co-workers have ever worked alongside.
“Women working in traditionally male-dominated occupations experience some of the highest rates of sexual harassment, and continue to face persistent and pervasive discrimination and gender bias on the job,” she said.
However, the number of women in any work environment, she says, must never be the reason they are subjected to harassment.
Emily Mugwe, a Construction Manager said it is unfortunate that sexuality rears its ugly head in the built industry, yet just like other careers, women do the job just as well as men.
“For a long time, a woman was consigned to the back seat when it came to tasks considered to be owned by men. To be in real estate sector amounted to asking for a favour at a cost,” said Emily.
Lack of proper policies
The consortium manager at the University of Nairobi regrets the rate at which female students taking male dominated careers drop out. “It’s like a favour for a woman to excel in those careers,” she said.
University don and renowned architect, Prof Alfred Omenya said sexual harassment is perpetuated by lack of sexual harassment policies, “The nature of work we do means the work place can at times not be convenient, but it is inhuman to dismiss a professional if advances are turned down.” he said.
Former Federation of National Associations of Women in Business in Eastern and Southern Africa CEO Katherine Nyangui said, “Women have roles to play, not just to fill the earth.
Biology has nothing to do with professional tasks a woman can uncertainty in the real sector,” she said.